A political economy of war: Britain and the United States

Terri Lee Towner, Purdue University


Previous studies analyzing attitudes toward war have emphasized situational, attitudinal, behavioral and contextual explanations of the declining popularity of war. Few, however, consider purely economic interpretations of war attitudes. My political economy perspective is based on the assumption that political attitudes are shaped partly by economic predictors. Thus, along with "standard model" of war attitudes, I evaluate the degree to which economic predictors help explain American and British attitudes toward the Iraq War. Specifically, drawing on theories linking politics and economics, I argue that the public is more likely to support war when the domestic economy and personal finances are perceived as prosperous, but less likely to support conflict when they perceive the economy as weak and their finances strained as a result of war. Using error-correction models to estimate a time-series of aggregate beliefs about the Iraq War, I find that objective and subjective economic predictors explain American and British war beliefs, often more than military casualties, war-time events, and leadership approval. I also identify groups in society most likely to bear the economic and financial costs of the Iraq War and then, by using public opinion surveys, examine the level of war support among those groups over time using multivariate regression analyses. I do not find that the costs of the Iraq War have differential effects on various socioeconomic groups. Finally, at the aggregate- and individual levels, I find some evidence that suggests that economic predictors also influence war beliefs indirectly, operating through leadership approval. Overall, these findings confirm that models of war attitudes must begin to look beyond the standard model linking casualty rates and war-time events to war beliefs.^




Suzanne L. Parker, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Political Science, General

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